Report: Wijnen, Research on WR3A Fairtrade Standards

Below is the paper released by the WR3A Intern, Berendina (Brenda) Wijnen, who spent a half year internship from the HES Amsterdam School of Business.  Brenda's background had been in tourism, and she had lived in France and Spain with jobs in the hospitality industry.  She was selected in part to give WR3A links to Europe and the WEEE and E-Waste policy there, and in part because she spoke 5 or 6 languages fluently - especially Spanish.

Brenda interviewed Vermont "Green Mountain Coffee Roasters" representatives about the development of the Fair Trade Coffee movement in the 1980s, and wrote the paper about making the transition from self-regulating businesses (like WR3A) to a certified third party FLO (Fairtrade Labeling Organization) standard, which R2 and RIOS aspire to. The Fairtrade labeling system went through the same fraternal disputes that R2 and E-Stewards are going through now.   What makes the difference is actually spending time in the developing world.  As I have said many times in this blog, the fatal and final flaw of the BAN E-Stewards approach is that entire factories, even the OEM factories which originally made the electronics, are disqualified regardless of their standards and their ability, and can never be E-Steward certified because of their nationality.  BAN's advertising campaign impugns the technical repair and refurbishing ability (and proper recycling ability) of developing nation recyclers with photos and film showing caroonish Al Jolson-esque stereotypes which leverage white guilt.  That is their fatal weakness.  What about WR3A's?

 WR3A has a different weakness, which Brenda's paper deftly examines, which is "self-interest" in certification.  The same accusations of self-interest arose during the other fairtrade (FLO) standard and certification programs, and the term "fairtrade" was trademarked to keep just any old company from claiming to meet the standard, or developing their own standard (as American Retroworks Inc. admittedly did with WR3A).   ISRI acquired IAER which had trademarked the term "certified recycler" for the same reasons.  BAN has now challenged that term in court.  The certification needs to be housed by someone.

Brenda understood that the people in the trenches with a stake in the trade are naturally the early adapters of a standard and are naturally self-interested.   Protesters who have never invested money into a partnership overseas, like BAN, have a different self interest, which is to perpetuate the stereotype that most of the exports are nasty, brutish shortcuts to proper recycling.  They attract their own self-interested shredding companies or cherry-picking off-lease companies (no hair on the meat, Joe says).

So all the standards are initially influenced by the people writing the standard.  My  take as the founder of WR3A is that transparency is the best salve.  By sending a European student to live and work in both the USA and the Mexican partner (as we have done with journalists), and to have her write a paper about what she saw, is the investment has made to making the export for recycling of e-waste fair and transparent, balancing the interests of both nations to achieve the best possible outcome.

I would have liked WR3A to be an organization which itself certified exports.  We found it too difficult to raise funds during the recession, or at least too difficult to fund the trade based on markups in the certified sales (something Fair Trade Coffee also tried).  WR3A could still blossom and achieve this, but ISRI is a stronger organization, and a new organization may take root.  The important thing I contribute, and my company contributes, is face to face contact with Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Senegal, Peru, Mexico ETC ETC ETC who are never included in BAN or ISRI or EPA or CBS 60 Minutes interviews.  America always goes through this navel-gazing, scrutinizing its own waste from its own perspective.  There are no numbers except for WR3A's numbers (and ASU's), and no faces, film or translation except for WR3A's partners.

WR3A could be embraced by BAN (which has made encouraging statements about Retroworks de Mexico based on Mexico's OECD status), and could be embraced by ISRI.  (EPA announced a grant of $85k and never delivered or personally called to apologize spiking it).  But everybody right now wants their picture taken next to a brown person, and WR3A has techies and women recyclers who fit that bill.   There was a gig to-do about EPA Administrator Jackson planning a trip to Ghana with BAN, and the trip being cancelled on account of the BP Gulf Oil spill.  I met the Ghana EPA director, he himself works on an imported refurb PC.

BAN said 'boo', EPA froze.  NO DATA.

Here is Brenda's Report on Research on WR3A Fairtrade Standards.

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